The BMW X5 is a jack of all trades. It's fluent on road, and can trundle on off-road paths with confidence.
The base X5 sports a 300-hp, twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 with 300 lb-ft of torque. With rear- or all-wheel drive, it can hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, in part because peak torque flips on at 1,200 rpm.
The diesel-powered X5 xDrive35d draws power from a 3.0-liter inline-6 turbodiesel with 255 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. BMW pegs the 60-mph run at 6.7 seconds. In our diesel drive around Vancouver the turbodiesel's easy rhythm punches holes in traffic and relaxed into a quiet lope on freeways. It has the swift mid-range response of a good 6-cylinder, with a bit of diesel clatter thrown in.
Top X5 xDrive50i utility vehicles sport a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8. It's good for 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, with peak torque landing at 2,000 rpm. Sixty miles per hour can arrive in 4.7 seconds, but there's no dramatic rush to speed. The linear delivery of V-8 power and the launch capability of all-wheel drive and automatic dampers mute any lurching launch behavior, much as a lot of sound deadening mutes the X5's powertrain sounds.
The plug-in hybrid version, badged the X5 xDrive 40e, features BMW's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor packaged within the 8-speed automatic transmission, and a 9.2-kwh lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged back up to full in less than three hours on Level 2 (240V). Total output is 308 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, and BMW says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and drive on electricity alone for up to 14 miles.
The behavior of the hybrid system--and how much the gasoline engine stays off--depends both on the settings you select and how you drive the X5. In the MAX eDrive setting, the X5 is powered only by electric power except if you floor the accelerator; in this mode, speed is limited to 75 mph. Otherwise there's an AUTO eDrive setting that allows the gasoline engine to come on more often and at a lower speed (of around 45 mph).
In a driving experience of several hundred miles, we found the plug-in hybrid system to provide pleasant, quiet, and reasonably strong performance in its electric-only mode, combined with strong acceleration altogether. We noticed just a few rough shifts from the transmission under moderate acceleration; but overall, this is a system that's good for both off-roading and towing.
With every powertrain, BMW fits a paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic. It can be turned to Sport mode, but in Eco Pro mode, the throttle slows, upshifts come earlier, and the X5 can coast by uncoupling the transmission from the drive axles.
Every X5 has electric power steering. With it, Eco Pro cuts down on steering assist, which doesn't help with the X5's general lack of feedback in anything but Sport or Sport+ mode. In those, the steering feel gets some heft, but it doesn't unwind gently. Add on BMW's variable-ratio steering, and the X5 feels less onerous at low speeds and more connected on the highway. The system wouldn't be our choice on a sportscar, but on a sport-utility vehicle it helps overcome some inherent dynamic trade-offs.
Beneath the X5, struts and control arms form the suspension. Adaptive shocks and rear air springs can be fitted, and can be controlled by the driver along with the other driving systems through a range of modes. The constant sense of stability makes the dampers worth the upgrade price, with or without the self-leveling rear air springs. With the dampers, the X5 corners flat, giving up some absorbency in its ride but stopping short of harsh--at least until the biggest wheels and the stiffest suspension settings are in play.
BMW's all-wheel drive system splits torque front to back, and interacts with the vehicle's traction, stability, and hill-descent control. If you intend to off-road the X5, BMW's xDrive system displays how power is split on a dash-mounted screen. Moderately challenging trails and lumps are no problem, somewhere in the Explorer/Touareg range, a few degrees removed from the Range Rover Sport realm. A trip to a semi-remote cabin in the woods? No problem.
As a commuter vehicle, the X5 may never need exotic features like the Dynamic Performance Control system. It splits torque between the rear wheels for better cornering, but it's more critical for high-performance machines like the X5 M.